Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Favourite Foote Photos: Colin Corneau

It doesn't take too many viewings of LB Foote's work to realize he was an unique soul.

The well-honed sense of the absurd he clearly possessed came through in such surreal images as a toddler and a bulldog standing atop a pile of ammunition, a banquet being held - for some unknown reason - in an ornate underground sewer, or a severed horse's head staring lifelessly up to the heavens.

Also notable were his many acts of daring, such as his high-altitude photographs from atop the newly constructed Hotel Fort Garry or the shot of the Eaton's building being raised. Speaking from personal experience, these are nerve-wracking moments but to do so with the limitations of the camera technology he had at that time is simply astounding.

However, one image I keep coming back to is his relatively straightforward photograph of the "King and Queen of Siam."

Photographs made with the limited technology of the time often needed much more time to set up and longer exposures. This made candid photography challenging, if not impossible. So, when subtle details on the part of subjects shows through, it's more than luck - it speaks to the skill and insight of the photographer.

In this image, we see a range of expressions and moments that, taken together, tell an interesting story (maybe enough for a great story, novel or movie). On the face of the King we see a bemused expression, perhaps smiling out of duty or perhaps wondering how he ended up in such a strange faraway place.

Beside him, his queen is decidedly less amused. Her pretty features are devoid of any pleasure. One can only speculate, but this may be protocol, it may be gender roles of the time and culture or perhaps weariness at what must have been a long journey.

Flanking the honoured guests on either side are the local dignitaries with the obligatory expressions. I can't imagine why the royal couple of what is now Thailand would come to Winnipeg, but the occasion was clearly an important one and these men would have been entrusted with the impression these exotic foreigners would have of our city.

All about them are fellow passengers or dignitaries, wearing expressions that range from from happiness and pride to stoicism. Of particular note to me was the person at the left, in the background beside the head of the uniformed man, seemingly craning his head to see what's going on or to be included in the event.

It's difficult enough to find such subtleties in quiet, everyday moments. But to do so in the middle of the pomp and circumstance of an 'official' event - not to mention some probable constraints on time - shows a skill not only technically based but with people as well.

- Colin Corneau

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Colin Corneau is a Manitoba photographer with a particular interest in film and analog processes. His photographs of China have been exhibited around the province and he currently documents the people and events of southwestern Manitoba as a staff photographer with the Brandon Sun. His work can be seen at www.colincorneau.com.

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